If enough people start believing, or acting like, something untrue is true, the world will say it is true, even though it is still untrue. With the poorly prepared and administered referendum held this past weekend declaring 90% percent of 75% of the voting population in the Ukrainian territory of Donetsk wanting the region to secede from Ukraine, the armed pro-Russian separatists, who conducted the unverifiable vote, are using the results to legitimize a Russian annexation of Donetsk. Given polling data suggesting greater support for unity with the rest of Ukraine and a minority in support of Russian rule, the claims of the separatists are more than just suspect.
Moscow is, however, using the results of the referendum to support their framing of the Ukrainian Crisis as the result of pro-Western forces seizing power. If Putin’s efforts to distance himself from the pro-Russian separatists last week when he called for the delay of the referendum, were sincere, the world can expect Putin to further back down if the Ukrainian government enters into a dialog with those in the East who feel their interests are being neglected by Kiev. Consequently, when the May 25th Presidential election is held, which must be undeniably legitimate, the victor must, at the very least, engage the pro-Russian population of Ukraine in order to resolve underlying issues.
If Putin’s efforts to distance himself from the separatist movement are simply part of his larger propaganda war, we can expect Russia to undermine the Presidential election and the results. If Moscow feels threatened by the political orientation of the victor, Russia may well even use the referendum results to justify annexing Donetsk. With international sanctions in place, Putin may well be recalculating his road map to domination. As such, the International Community must be prepared to implement far more devastating sanctions to the Russian economy should Putin act. On the other hand, Putin must be given room to make the decision to unwind his destructive involvement in the Ukrainian Crisis, so action should not be taken, at this point, i.e. until Putin makes his next move.
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